Wars of Ramesses II



Ramesses II was introduced early to the military careers of his family. His grandfather, RAMESSES I, and his great-grandfather, Seti, had been commanders in the field. Ramesses II accompanied his father in a Libyan campaign when he was a teenager. He also went to war in the Mediterranean and Palestine regions.

He became the coregent in the seventh year of the reign of Seti I, who reportedly said: “Crown Him as king that I may see his beauty while I live with him.” His throne name meant “Strong in Right Is RÉ.” He also conducted a Nubian campaign, accompanied by two of his own sons, at age 22.

In Egypt, he aided Seti I in vast restoration programs up and down the Nile. Together they built a new palace at PER-RAMESSES, the new capital founded by Ramesses I in the eastern Delta. Wells, QUARRIES, and mines were also reopened.

Inheriting the throne, Ramesses II completed his father’s buildings and began to restore the empire. He made promotions among his aides, refurbished temples and shrines, and campaigned on the borders of the land. He then began a war with the HITTITES that would last for decades. This war opened with the Battle of KADESH, a military campaign commemorated in the Poem of PENTAUR (or Pentauret) on the walls of KARNAK and in the SALLIER PAPYRUS III.

That particular campaign provided a temporary truce but then continued in a series of three phases. After pushing the Egyptian domain to Beirut, (modern Lebanon), Ramesses II met the enemy at Kadesh. Later he battled to recover Palestine, which had been encouraged to revolt. Lastly, Ramesses II conquered Hittite lands far from Egypt and deep inside the enemy’s empire, bringing the Hittites to the treaty table.

Egyptian Army

With the exception of cavalry, the Egyptians developed every kind of military arm known at the time. The bulk of their forces were infantry, carrying shields and armed with lances or bows. Light infantry carried slings or javelins. For sidearms, the infantry usually carried short, double-edged swords. However, some pictures show them with a khopesh, which has a wide curved blade vaguely resembling a meat cleaver. Their shields were curved on top and straight or slightly curved along the sides, wooden and covered with leather. A shield was roughly about half the height of a man. Armor was unknown for the common soldier, his protection being little more than a quilted tunic and cap. The higher ranks are depicted in Egyptian artwork as wearing links of metal fastened loosely to permit freedom of movement. The king is usually depicted wearing a metal helmet and often carried a battle-axe or a mace. More than any other weapon, however, the Egyptians depended on the bow. The one they employed was five to six feet long with arrows up to 30 inches long.

The glory of the Egyptian army was the chariot, the weapon they had adopted from the Hyksos. Tomb paintings almost always show the pharaoh in a chariot, usually alone with the reins tied about his midriff as he defeats his enemies. This is probably artistic license, as the two-wheeled vehicles they drove were designed to carry two men, a driver and an archer, and are usually shown with attached quivers of arrows and short spears. The horses were not only decorated with headdresses, but covered at their joints with metal ornaments doubling as protection. The most famous story concerning the use of chariots in Egypt is that of the Exodus, wherein the whole of Pharaoh’s force of 600 chariots was employed in chasing the Hebrews. Although the Book of Exodus mentions cavalry, contemporary Egyptian artwork almost never shows men on horseback, and those who are depicted are usually foreigners.

The army of the New Kingdom was a thoroughly professional force, although conscripts were used: One man in 10 was liable for military service. Egyptian units were given names of gods for their titles (for example, Anubis, Phre, Thoth, etc.), which probably reflected the local divinity where the unit was raised. The divisions usually numbered 5,000, subdivided into 250-man companies and 50-man platoons. The artwork of ancient Egypt depicts the soldiers marching in order, but the battles seem to have no structure, just a melee. It is therefore difficult to know what military doctrines may have been developed in Egypt. However, as the point to the artwork was to glorify the pharaoh, the actions of the regular soldiers would not have mattered. In the depictions of attacks on fortifications, no reference exists for any sort of siege engines, like catapults or battering rams. In the pictures only arrows and extremely long pikes are being used in order to clear the walls of defenders, and scaling ladders are then employed. Art work at Abu Simbel shows how the Egyptians set up camp when on campaign. They did not dig entrenchments, but surrounded the camp with a palisade made of the soldier’s shields. The pharaoh’s tent is in the center of the camp, surrounded by those of his officers. Separate sections hold the horses, the chariots, the mules, and the pack gear. A hospital section is depicted, as well as another area of camp for drill and punishment. Outside the camp, charioteers and infantry are shown exercising. In the center of the camp is a lion, although whether this is literal or the symbol of the pharaoh is disputed.

Once liberated from the Hyksos, the Egyptians apparently understood that the more distant the frontier they could de fend, the safer would be the homeland. Thus, Egyptian campaigns began up the east coast of the Mediterranean toward modern Syria. Inscriptions of the time praise war as a high calling, whereas in previous days the main accomplishment of warfare was looting and the acquisition of wealth. (That, of course, remained a goal, and the pillage and tribute the Egyptians gathered financed the impressive buildings for which they are justly famous.) The problem they faced was that, unlike the nomads and bandits they had fought in earlier times, they now had to fight trained soldiers of other kings. The Egyptians apparently learned the art of war fairly quickly, however, for the contemporary inscriptions describe the joy the pharaoh felt when he got to go to war. “For the good god exults when he begins the fight, he is joyful when he has to cross the frontier, and is content when he sees blood. He cuts off the heads of his enemies, and an hour of fighting gives him more delight than a day of pleasure” (Erman, 1971).

The Egyptian military maintained a strong presence in the Palestine/Syria region for centuries, sometimes farther away and sometimes closer, depending on the nature of their opponents. They also expanded their borders southward at the expense of the Nubians.


Battle of Kadesh

A famous confrontation between RAMESSES II (r. 1290-1224 B. C. E.) and MUWATALLIS of the HITTITES, taking place c. 1285 B. C. E. on the Orontes River in modern Syria, the battle was recounted in 10 inscriptions, including a poetic form, bulletins, and reliefs on temple walls. Ramesses II marched out of Egypt on the ninth day of the second month of summer, stopping at Tjel, an Egyptian outpost. He had the Regiment of Amun, as well as three other major units with him, and the Sherden infantry, composing a force of 20,000 men. Reaching Ramesses-Meryamen, an Egyptian fortress in the Valley of the Cedars in modern Lebanon, Ramesses II saw no sign of the Hittites. Tricked by two “Shoshu,” Hittite spies posing as local inhabitants, Ramesses II stretched his forces 30 miles into the enemy territory, divided his forces, and then made camp. When Muwatallis began a series of raids and ambushes, Ramesses II beat the “Shoshu” and received confirmation of the Hittite trap and his peril.

The Hittites reportedly had 3,500 chariots, manned by three men each, and an infantry of 18,000 to 19,000 with auxiliary units and escorts totaling 47,500. Ramesses II, becoming alarmed, sent for the Regiment of Ptah and scolded his officers for their laxity in assessing the situation. While this was happening, however, the Hittites were cutting their way through the Regiment of Ré, sealing the trap. Hundreds of Egyptians began to arrive at Ramesses II’s camp in headlong flight. The Hittite cavalry was close behind, followed by some 2,500 chariots. The Regiment of Amun was almost overwhelmed by the panicking soldiers who had suffered the first losses in the battle. The unit therefore raced northward in the same disorder.

Undaunted, Ramesses II brought calm and purpose to his small units and began to slice his way through the enemy in order to reach his southern forces. With only his household troops, a few officers, and followers, and with the rabble of the defeated units standing by, he mounted his chariot and discovered the extent of the forces against him. His chariot was drawn by his favorite horses, “Victory of Thebes” and “Mut Is Content,” and he charged the east wing of the assembled force with such ferocity that they gave way, allowing the Egyptians to escape the net that Muwatallis had cast for them. The Hittite king watched the cream of his command fall before Ramesses II, including his own brother. The Hittites and their allies were being driven into the river, where they drowned.

Within the abandoned Egyptian camp, the enemy soldiers were looting, and they were surprised by a group of Ramesses II’s soldiers and slain. Ramesses II gathered up the victorious unit, determined to stand his ground until reinforcements arrived. The Hittite king, in turn, threw his reserves of 1,000 chariots into the fray, but he was unable to score against Ramesses II and his men. Then the banners and totems of the Regiment of Ptah came into sight and both camps knew that the Egyptian reinforcements had arrived. The Hittite cavalry was driven into the city, with terrible losses, and Muwatallis withdrew. Ramesses II did not capture Kadesh, and Muwatallis claimed a Hittite victory and the acquisition of the city of Apa (modern Damascus). Ramesses II claimed victory and executed all of the Egyptians who had not rushed to his aid. This battle would not end the conflicts between Egypt and the Hittites. Almost two decades of confrontations finally led to the Egyptian Hittite Treaty.

Suggested Readings: Road to Kadesh a Historical Interpretation of the Battle Reliefs of King Sety I at Karnak. Chicago: Oriental Inst., 1990; Healy, Mark. The Warrior Pharaoh: Ramesses II and the Battle. London: Osprey, 2000.

Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler incident


“A Higher Call” by John D. Shaw

The Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler incident occurred on 20 December 1943, when, after a successful bomb run on Bremen, Charles ‘Charlie’ Brown’s B-17 Flying Fortress (named “Ye Olde Pub”) was severely damaged by German fighters. Luftwaffe pilot and ace Franz Stigler had an opportunity to shoot down the crippled bomber, but instead, for humanitarian reasons, decided to allow the crew to fly back to their airfield in England. The two pilots met each other 40 years later after the extensive search by Charlie Brown and the friendship that the two developed lasted until their deaths.


2nd Lt. Charlie Brown (a farm boy from West Virginia) was a B-17F pilot with United States Army Air Forces (USAAF)’s 379th Bomber Group stationed at RAF Kimbolton in England. Franz Stigler (a former airline pilot from Bavaria) was a veteran Luftwaffe fighter pilot attached to Jagdgeschwader 27 and at the time had 22 victories to his name and would be eligible for the coveted Knight’s Cross with one more downed enemy aircraft.

Bremen mission

The mission was Brown’s first and targeted a Focke-Wulf aircraft production facility in Bremen.

Bomb run

Brown’s B-17 began its 10-minute bomb run at 27,300 feet with an outside air temperature of minus 60 °C. Before the bomber released its bomb load, accurate anti-aircraft flak shattered the Plexiglas nose, knocked out the number two engine and further damaged the number four engine which was already in questionable condition and had to be throttled back to prevent overspeeding. The damage slowed the bomber and Brown was unable to remain with his formation and fell back as a straggler – a position from which he would come under sustained enemy attacks.

Attacks by fighters

Brown’s straggling B-17 was now attacked by over a dozen enemy fighters (a mixture of Bf-109s and FW-190s) for over 10 minutes. Further damage was sustained including the number three engine which would produce only half power (meaning the aircraft had at worst 40% of its total rated power available). The bomber’s internal oxygen, hydraulic and electrical systems were also damaged. The bomber’s only remaining defensive armament were the two dorsal turret guns and one of three forward-firing nose guns (from eleven available). Most of the crew were now wounded (the tail gunner had been killed) and Brown was wounded in his right shoulder.

Lacking oxygen, Brown lost consciousness, but came round to find the bomber remarkably flying level at around 1000 ft. He regained the controls and began the long flight home in the shattered bomber.

Franz Stigler

Brown’s damaged bomber was spotted by Germans on the ground, including Franz Stigler, who was refueling and rearming at an airfield. He soon took off in his Messerschmitt Bf-109 and quickly caught up with Brown’s plane. Through the damaged bomber’s air frame Stigler was clearly able to see the injured and incapacitated crew. To the American pilot’s surprise, Stigler did not open fire on the crippled bomber. Remembering the words of one of his commanding officers from the Jagdgeschwader 27, Gustav Rödel, during his time fighting in north Africa – “You are fighter pilots first, last, always. If I ever hear of any of you shooting at someone in a parachute, I’ll shoot you myself.” Stigler later commented, “To me, it was just like they were in a parachute. I saw them and I couldn’t shoot them down.”

Twice, Stigler tried to get Brown to land his plane at a German airfield and surrender, or divert to nearby neutral Sweden, where he and his crew would receive medical treatment but be interned and sit out the remainder of the war. Brown refused and flew on. Stigler then flew near Brown’s plane, escorting it until they reached the North Sea and departing with a salute.


Brown managed to fly the 250 miles across the North Sea and land his plane at RAF Seething, home of the 448th Bomb Group and at the after-flight debriefing informed his officers about how a German pilot had let him go. He was told not to repeat this to the rest of the unit so as not to build any positive sentiment about enemy pilots. Brown commented, “Someone decided you can’t be human and be flying in a German cockpit.” Stigler said nothing of the incident to his commanding officers, knowing that a German pilot who spared the enemy while in combat risked execution.

Lt. Brown went on to complete a combat tour.

Post war and meeting of pilots

After the war, Charlie Brown returned home to West Virginia and went to college, returning to the Air Force in 1949 and serving until 1965. Later, as a State Department Foreign Service Officer, he made numerous trips to Laos and Vietnam. But in 1972, he hung up his government service hat and moved to Miami to become an inventor.

Stigler moved to Canada in 1953 and became a successful businessman.

In 1986, the then retired Colonel Charlie Brown was asked to speak at a combat pilot reunion event called “Gathering of the Eagles”. Someone asked him if he had any memorable missions during World War II. Brown thought for a minute and recalled the story of Stigler’s escort and salute. Afterwards Brown decided he should try to find the unknown German pilot.

After four years of searching vainly for U.S. and West German Air Force records that might shed some light on who the other pilot was, Brown hadn’t come up with much. He then wrote a letter to a combat pilot association newsletter. A few months later, Brown received a letter from Stigler who was living in Canada. “I was the one” it said. When they spoke on the phone, Stigler described his plane, the escort and salute confirming everything Brown needed to hear to know he was the German fighter-pilot involved in the incident.

Between 1990 and 2008, Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler became close friends and remained so until their deaths within several months of each other in 2008.


The incident was the subject of Adam Makos’ New York Times best-selling book, A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II, published 19 December 2012.

Stilicho’s Wars with the Visigoths (390-408 C. E.)


Stilicho recalled one of the two British legions to assist with the defense of Italy against Alaric and the Visigoths. The recalled legion, known as the Sixth Victrix, was said by Claudian (in “De Bello Gallico,” 416) to be “that legion which is stretched before the remoter Britons, which curbs the Scot, and gazes on the tattoo-marks on the pale face of the dying Pict.” The barbarians were defeated, this time, at battle of Pollentia.


Honorius, Emperor in the West (395-423)

The Visigoths broke a peace established in 381 by Eastern Roman emperor Theodosius I (346?-395), by allying with Huns to devastate Thrace in 390. This action brought confrontation with the Roman general Flavius Stilicho (359?- 408), a former Vandal who understood barbarian strategies. By 392, the Romans had suppressed Visigothic raiding. With the death of Theodosius and the elevation of Alaric (370?-410) as the Visigoths’ king, raiding resumed in the southern and western Balkans. Greece suffered the destruction of the Temple of Demeter (396); of the northern cities, only Thebes held out. Stilicho, whose troops failed to win in Thessaly, was briefly transferred to Italy. He returned to Greece in 397 and blockaded the Visigoths in Arcadia, but his strategy was undercut because he was again sent to Italy to punish the African Moors’ refusal to ship grain to Rome. Some Visigoths then devastated Epirus until Alaric, placated by bribes, made peace in 397; he was made magister militum of Illyricum (Croatia) and gained Epirus, an unfortunate reward, for he could now harass the Western Roman Empire. With a Gothic leader, Radagaisus (d. 405), Alaric formed a Danubian confederation, including Vandals and Alans. By 401, northern Italy, especially Milan, was under attack. Stilicho’s forces drove the confederation armies westward and then defeated them in a bloody battle at Pollentia (Polenza) in northern Italy in 402, capturing Alaric’s wife and family and forcing Alaric back to Illyricum. Within a year, he was back besieging Verona. Stilicho’s forces could have massacred the Visigoths; however, Stilicho, who desired Rome’s eastern throne, developed a treaty (403) aiming at an invasion of this younger empire. It failed because Radagaisus went instead to Italy, losing to Stilicho at Fiesole in 405. Alaric took over the Goths’ base in Noricum (southern Austria), demanded a huge payment for Gothic service to Rome, and received it in 407. A mutiny among Stilicho’s troops brought an allegation of treason, a trial, and Stilicho’s execution in 408. Freed of effective opposition, Alaric began to threaten Rome itself.

Stilicho, Flavius (d. 408 C. E.)

Magister militum in the West from 394 to 408 and one of the major political figures in the later years of the Roman Empire.

Stilicho was the son of a VANDAL cavalry officer and a Roman lady. Probably through the influence of his father he was chosen in 383 to serve as part of a diplomatic mission to PERSIA. Upon his return (c. 394) he was married to Serena, Emperor THEODOSIUS I’s niece, and given the rank of COMES, or count. From 385 to 392 he was comes domesticorum, accompanying the emperor on his campaign against Magnus Maximus while amassing influence and power in the court. Made MAGISTER MILITUM in THRACE (c. 392), he was a general during the war against Eugenius. After the battle of FRIGIDUS (394), Theodosius declared him magister militum in the West.

Stilicho now possessed virtually unlimited power, increasing his control by centralizing the bureaucracy of the Western provinces, making them answerable to him alone. Thus, when Theodosius named Stilicho as guardian of the young Honorius, he was ready to go beyond the letter of the emperor’s aims, especially after Theodosius died in 395. De facto ruler of the West and master of the Eastern armies, Stilicho pronounced himself guardian of both emperors HONORIUS and ARCADIUS. Marching into Greece he was ready to annihilate ALARIC and the VISIGOTHS but received orders to desist from Praetorian Prefect RUFINUS, whom Stilicho subsequently had murdered.

The removal of Rufinus did nothing to end the hatred of Stilicho in both the Eastern and Western courts. In 397, Arcadius declared him a public enemy, and the magister militum in AFRICA, Gildo, revolted. Neither event could loosen his hold on the Western Empire, for he was CONSUL in 400. The following year Alaric invaded Italy, only to be beaten by Stilicho at the battle of POLLENTIA. Consul again in 405, the general took to the field once more, this time against Radagaisus, routing the barbarian king in 406. Deciding to use Alaric as an ally, he elevated the Visigoth to the rank of magister militum as part of a plan to take ILLYRICUM. His strategy was ruined by the emergence of the usurper CONSTANTIUS III in Gaul. Not only did he have to face a dangerous usurper, but also Alaric suddenly demanded compensation of 4,000 pounds of gold. Stilicho convinced the SENATE to oblige.

Fortune turned against Stilicho even more in 408. Arcadius died, and Stilicho convinced Honorius to allow him to settle affairs at Constantinople. Already weakened by Alaric’s extortion, Stilicho was accused by members of the court of plotting to put his son on the throne. When the troops in Gaul mutinied, murdering their own officers, Stilicho was arrested by Honorius. After hiding briefly in a church, he was executed on August 22, 408.

Many accounts were very hostile to Stilicho, most notably that of the historian EUNAPIUS. He was, nevertheless, an accomplished general who proved skillful in defeating the hordes then threatening the empire and in dealing with them by negotiation and diplomacy. A vehement Christian, he helped destroy PAGANISM both through laws and with the burning of the SIBYLLINE BOOKS.

Visigothic Sack of Rome, (410 C. E.)

In 408, the Visigoth’s demands upon Rome for tribute and Pannonia (Roman province south and west of the Danube) were rejected by the government in Ravenna; Alaric (370?-410), the Visigothic king, blockaded Rome, gained a sizable ransom, and then withdrew to Tuscany to fight Roman armies. When Roman officials at Ravenna refused to meet Alaric’s new demands, the Visigoths seized Rome’s port city of Ostia in 409; Alaric forced the Roman Senate to elect a puppet emperor, who named him commander in chief. Alaric then besieged Ravenna but withdrew when 4,000 relief soldiers arrived from Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire (Ravenna was the capital of the West). A truce followed; the puppet emperor was deposed, but an attack on Alaric’s camp by the Romans broke the truce (410). Determined to sack Rome and then take the Visigoths to North Africa, Alaric invaded northern Italy from Illyricum (Roman colony along the Adriatic’s east coast) and besieged Rome. The city suffered starvation; the Roman Senate agreed to more tribute for Alaric, but Ravenna overruled its vote. Three weeks later, the city’s Salarian Gate was opened by treachery; Visigoths and Roman slaves then destroyed Rome, sparing only the churches. Many died, while others were held for ransom or enslaved. Loaded with loot, the Visigoths marched south.

1944-45 WWII in Czech State and Slovakia



The Nazi puppet state in Slovakia sent small ground and air units to fight against the Soviet Union. Formerly a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, after World War I Slovakia shared the twists and turns of the history of the Czech state. But during World War II the two provinces were split when a Nazi protectorate was set up in Slovakia under a local priest and fascist leader, Josef Tiso (1887-1947). Slovakia adhered to the Tripartite Pact and Axis alliance on November 23, 1940. In June 1941, it declared war on the Soviet Union. There followed declarations of war against the Western Allies in tandem with the German declarations of December 11, 1941. The Slovak population did not so readily embrace these pro-German policies. At the end of August 1944, the Slovak Uprising broke out.


Some in the fascist Slovak Army tried to play a clever game of rising against the Germans before the arrival of the Red Army, to assert a primary political claim for the postwar period. As with the Warsaw Uprising, the problem was fatal mistiming. On August 29, 1944, Slovak resistance fighters rose against the Germans, declaring “Free Slovakia” while hoping for help from the approaching Red Army. That same day, seven Soviet Fronts were ordered onto the “strict defensive” along the Eastern Front. Toward the end the VVS flew in supplies and some Czech and Slovak fighters to an isolated pocket of continuing resistance in north-central Slovakia. Czech pilots in the VVS flew air cover over the area and a Czech-Slovak brigade was parachuted in. Otherwise, the uprising in Slovakia was left to burn itself out. The last stronghold of the rebels was crushed on October 27. A few survivors made it into the Carpathians. Most were wiped out by the Wehrmacht and punitive Schutzstaffel (SS) and criminal brigades, the latter with hands still bloody from mass murders committed in Warsaw. Slovakia was not liberated by the Red Army until 1945.

Like the Warsaw Rising in Poland, the Slovak rebellion was savagely crushed by the Germans by the end of October: it was as hard for small powers to leave the Axis at the end of the war as it was to resist annexation at its beginning. Slovakia was defended against the assaulting Red Army by German 1st Panzer Army. That was a misnamed force without any tanks which had no chance against the combat power it faced in Soviet 1st and 4th Ukrainian Fronts. Three Soviet armies broke part way into the Carpathians in September-October during what Russian historians call the “East Carpathian operation.” After a two-month pause, a complimentary “West Carpathian operation” was launched in January-February, 1945. It was temporarily blocked by a stiffened defense by 600,000 Axis troops led by General Ferdinand Schörner. Stalin and the Stavka sacked the original Soviet commander, replacing him with General Andrei Yeremenko. He also had trouble with Slovakia’s terrain: mountain fighting was new to much of the Red Army, while in Slovakia the Soviets faced German and Waffen-SS bitterenders. Yeremenko was reinforced and attacked again from March to May, 1945. His “Bratislava-Brno operation “went around the German flanks and up the Danube valley. Bratislava fell on April 4. Brno was taken on the 28th. Tiso was found hiding in a cellar. He was hanged as a traitor in 1947. Prime Minister Winston Churchill urged the new American President, Harry Truman, to send American forces to take Prague. American 3rd and 7th Armies had advanced through Bavaria against light resistance and reached the border of western Bohemia on April 25, 1945. By Allied agreement, liberation of Prague was left to the Red Army. Citizens of the city had other ideas and rose on May 4, though perhaps more in celebration of expected liberation than in violent determination to liberate themselves. The rising cut off remnants of Army Group Center from escape to the west or back to Germany, so German troops tried to retake Prague. The Red Army arrived five days later, one day after a formal ceasefire and surrender agreement at Reims went into effect across Germany. The Soviets took down the last German resistance after a blistering artillery barrage. There was heavy fighting in other parts of Czechoslovakia by bitterenders in Army Group Center, especially among Waffen-SS units. More famously, there was some fighting with a demoralized division of the Russian Liberation Army that lasted until May 11. All that made Czechoslovakia the first territory invaded by German troops and the last from which they were violently expelled.

When the fighting ended, almost 720,000 Germans were marched off to Soviet POW camps. Most remained in harsh captivity for years, working as forced laborers in the Soviet Union. The Red Army put its losses for nine months of the Czech and Slovak campaigns at 140,000 men. When the Soviets withdrew their armed forces from the country, Benes returned as president of a restored Czechoslovakia. The dawn of liberation did not last long: in 1946 Benes appointed a Communist prime minister in yet another foolhardy placatory gesture toward Moscow. In February 1948, a Communist coup forced Benes to resign. Klement Gottwald, a harsh Stalinist, thereafter embedded Czechoslovakia deep inside an emerging postwar “Soviet bloc.”

21st Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Skanderbeg

A collection of some pics of Albania during the Fascist era and WW2

The historical and political precedents for the creation of a greater Sqiperia or Greater Albania was set during World War II when the Kosovo and Metohija regions along with territory Southwest of lake Skutari from Montenegro and the western region of Southern Serbia, or Juzna Srbija (now part of Macedonija), were annexed to Albania by the Axis powers led by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, under a plan devised by Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler to dismember and to destroy the Serbian Nation and people, which the Germans and Italians perceived as the main threat to the axis powers and to the Third Reich in the Balkan.

On April 7, 1939, Italian troops invaded and occupied Albania forcing the Albanian ruler King Zog I Ahmed Bey Zogu, to flee to Greece. Italy formally annexed into the Kingdom of Italy under the Italian king Victor Immanuel and established a military government and viceroy. The Italian began a program to colonize the country when thousands of settlers emigrated to Albania. An Albanian Fascist Party was established with Albanian Black skirts based on Italian models. The Albanian Army consisted of three infantry brigades of 12 000 men.

On October 28 1940, Italy invaded Greece from Albania with 10 Italian divisions and the Albanian Army but were driven back.

Germany sought to assist the Italian-Albanian offensive by operation Alpine Violet, a plan to move a corps of tree German mountain divisions to Albania by air and sea. Instead German built up a heavy concentration of the German Twelfth Army on the northwest Greek Border with Bulgaria, from where the German invasion was launched.

On April 6, 1941, Nazi Germany and the axis powers invaded Yugoslavia, Operation Punishment, and Greece forcing the capitulation of Yugoslavia on the 17th, and Greece on the 23rd. Yugoslavia was subsequently occupied and dismembered. The Axis powers established a greater Albania or greater Shqiperia at the expense of Serbia and Montenegro. Territory from Montenegro was annexed to Greater Albania. From Serbia, the Kosovo and Metohija were ceded to greater Albania, along with the western part of Southern Serbia (Juzna Srbija), now part of Macedonia, an area which was part of Stara Srbija (Ancient Old Serbia). This Kosovo-metohija region and the surrounding territory annexed to Greater Albania was called “New Albania”.

To create an ethnically pure Shqiptar Kosovo, which Albanian called “Kosova”, the Shqiptari (Albanians) launched a widescale campaigns of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Ethnic Serbs in the Kosovo-Metohija regions were massacred, and their homes were burned, and survivors were brutally driven out and expelled in policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

The Balli Kombetar (BK or National Union) was an Albanian nationalist group led by Midhat Fresheri and Ali Klissura whose political objective was to in incorporate Kosovo-Metohija into a Greater Albania and to ethnically cleanse the region of Orthodox Serbs

The Abanian Committee of Kosovo organized massive campaigns of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Orthodox Serbian inhabitants of Kosovo- Metohuja. A contemporary report described the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Serbs as follows:

Armed with material supplied by the Italians, the Albanians hurled themselves against helpless settlers in their homes and villages. According to the most reliable sources, the Albanian burned many Serbian settlements, killing some of the people and driving out others who escaped to the mountains. At present other Serbian settlement are being attacked and the property of individuals and of communities is either being confiscated or destroyed. It is not possible to ascertain at the present time the exact number of victims of those atrocities, but it may be estimated that at least between 30.000 and 40.000 perished.

Bedri Pejani, the Muslim leader of the Albanian National committee, called for the extermination of Ortodox Serbian Cristians in Kosovo Metohija and for a union of a Greater Albania with Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Rashka (Sandzak) region of Serbia, into a great Islamic state. The grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin El Husseini was presented to Pejani a plan which he approved as a being in the interest of Islam. The Germans however rejected the plan.

On September 3, 1943, Italy capitulated by signing an armistice with the Allies. The German were now forced to occupy Albania with the collapse of the Italian forces. The Germans sent the 100th Jaeger Division from Greece and the 297th Infantry Division from Serbia and the German 1st Mountain Division to occupy Albania. These troops were organized into the XXI Mountain Corps which was under the command of General Paul Bader.

Additional security forces for the interior were needed, however, to free up Germans troops for defense of the coastline. The decision was made to form an Albanian SS mountain division for this purpose. In April in 1944, recruitment for the Albanian SS division began under direction of the newly formed Albanian Nazi party, which has been formed through the efforts of Ernst Kaltenbrunner. Acting upon instructions of Reichsfuehrer SS Henrich Himmler, the SS main office ordered the formation of an Albanian volunteer mountain division on April 17, 1944. SS Brigadefuehrern and Generalmajor of the Waffen SS Josef Fitzhum, who Headed the Higher SS and Police Command in Albania, oversaw the forming and training of the division.

The SS high Command planed to create a mountain division of 10.000 men. The Higher SS and Police Command in Albania, in conduction with the Albanian National Committee, listed 11.398 possible recruits for the Waffen SS mountain division. Most of these recruits were “kossovars”, shqiptar Ghegs from Kosovo Metohija in Serbia. The Shqiptar Tosks were found mainly in southern Albania. Most of the Shqiptar collaborators with the nazi forces were theNazi forces were the so-called Kossovars, ethnic Shqiptars from the Kosmet of Serbia. The Nazi German-sponsored Albanian gendarmes, special police and para-military units were made up by Kossovars. The Kossovars were under the direct control of the Albanian Interior Minister Xhafer Deva.

The Skanderbeg Division was formed and trained in Kosovo and was made up mostly of muslim Shqiptar Kossovars. There were only a small number of Albanians from Albania proper in the division. The Skanderbeg Mountain Division of the Wafen SS was thus essentially a Kosovo or Kosmet Division. The Division was stationed and operated in Kosovo and other Serbian regions almost exclusively.

Of the 11.398 recruits listed for the Division, 9.275 were ascertained to be suitable to draft in the Waffen SS. Of those suitable to be drafted, 6.491 Albanian were chosen and inducted into the Skanderbeg Division. To this Albanian core were added veteran German troops primarily Reichdeutsche from Austria and Volkdeutcshe officers, NCOs, and enlisted men, transferred from the 7th SS Mountain Division “Prinz Eugen” which was stationed in Bosnia-Hercegovina. The Kosovo Albanian 21st Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS “Skanderbeg” consisted in total of 8.500 – 9.000 men of all ranks. The 6.491 Shqiptar recruits were assembled at depots in Kosovo where the formation and the training of the division began.

The official designation for the division was 21 Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS “Skanderbeg” (Albanische Nr 1). The SS Main Office designed a distinctive arm patch for the division, consisting of a black double-headed eagle on a red background, the national symbol of Albania. The word “Skanderbeg”, embroidered in white, appeared above the eagle and was warn on the left sleeve. The right collar patch consisted of a helmet with a goat’s head on top, the helmet supposedly worn by George Kastrioti Skanderbeg, after whom the division was named. The Shqiptars recruits in the division wore a white skullcap, the national attire of the Shqiptar Ghegs. The SS main office also issued gray skullcaps with the Totenkopf (death’s head) insignia sewn on the front below the Hoheitszeichen (the national symbol of Nazi Germany, consisting of a white eagle over a Nazi swastika).

Division was named after George Kastrioti, or Gjergj Kastriota, also as Kastriotis (1405-1468), national hero of Albania, who fought for the Ottoman Turks. As a child, Kastrioti was given as a hostage to Sultan Murat II to be brought as a Muslim at Adrianople (Edrine). Kastrioti became an officer in the Ottoman Turkish army and led the Turkish forces in many victories over Christian troops. Murat II was impressed with his valor and bravery in his battle for Islam and gave him the name Iskander Bey in Turkish, from “Iskander”, Aleksander the Great, or prince Aleksander, and “bey”, master. The name was shortened to Skanderbeg, beg being the local variant of bey. Later Kastrioti renounced Islam and converted to Christianity and attacked his former Ottoman Turkish masters. He captured the Albanian capital Kroja from the Turkish governor and proclaimed a revolt against the Turks in 1442. Sultan Mohammed II sent Turkish armies to defeat the renegade Kastrioti, but he was able to defeat Turkish forces, wich besieged Kroja but could not capture it. Kastrioti died in 1468. Kroja surrendered in 1479 and the Turks occupied Albania.

The Albanians in the Skanderbeg Division were mostly Muslims, of the Bektashi and Sunni sects of Islam. The division contained several hundred Albanian Catholics, followers of Jon Marko Joni.

The first commander of the Skandereg division was SS Brigadefuehrer Generalmajor of the Waffen SS Josef Fitshum, who commanded the division from April to June 1944. After the Juli 20, assassination plot against Hitler, Fitzhum was appointed supreme commander in Albania. In June, SS Stardentenfuehrer August Schmidhuber was appointed division commander, a post would hold until August 1944. On June 21, 1944, Schmidhuber was promoted to SS Oberfuehrer and later in the war, he would be promoted to SS Brigadefuhrer. SS Oberstrumbannfuhrer Alfred Graf commanded the reorganized remnants of the Skanderbeg Division from August 1944, to May, 1945.

The Shultzstaffel or SS was created in the period 1923-1925 and was initially known as the Stosstrupp (Shock troop) “Adolf Hitler”. On January 16, 1929, Hitler appointed Heinrich Himmler leader of SS, Reichsfuehrer SS. The SS was envisioned as an elite troop of the Party, a praetorian bodyguard to Hitler and the Nazi leadership. The SS was a formation “composed of the best physically, the most dependable, and the most faithful men in the Nazi movement. In 1940, combat units of the SS were formed, collectively termed the Waffen SS. Approximately 30-40 Waffen SS divisions were formed during the war, divided into three groupings, Waffen divisions made by Germans, those made up of ethnic Germans outside the Reich, and those made up of non-Germans. “Divisions der SS”, Divisions of the SS.

On September 27,1939, Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler as Chief of German Police consolidated the Gestapo, Kripo, and SD under an SS Main Office of Reich Security, or the RSHA. The RSHA was the actual body entrusted with the overall administration of the final solution at the Jewish Problem, what became known as the Holocaust. The SS Economic and administrative Main Office or WVHA, run the concentration camp system. Nazi concentration camp personnel and guards, although not under the command of the Army or the Kommandoamt der Waffen SS, nevertheless, wore Waffen SS uniforms and received Waffen SS paybooks. Reichfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler oversaw a program that resulted in the extermination of millions of men, women and children. Himmler was the Architect of genocide and of the Holocaust and the Wafen SS was his “private army”, the black angels”.

In June,1944, The Skanderbeg Waffen SS Mountain Division engaged in large-scale field maneuvers in the area between the towns of Berane and Adrijevica in Monte Negro (Crna Gora). Garrisons of Skanderbeg division were established in Kosovo towns of Pec, Jakova, Prizren, and Pristina. Further training of the division continued in August as new recruits were inducted in the division. An artillery battalion of the division, consisting of two batteries, was located in Gnjilane.

The first major action of the division occurred in August, 144 in Kosovo. In September, 1944, the Skanderbeg division occupied the Southern Serbia (Juzna Srbija) region now part of the communist created republic of Macedonia, and helped to garrison the region. The Skanderberg division was ordered into the areas surrounding the towns Skoplje (or Skopje), Kumanovo Presevo and Bujanovac. Sanderbeg operated in Stara Serbija (old and Ancient Serbia) region, in the towns of Pec, Gnjilane,Djakovica, Tetovo Gostivar, and Kosovska Mitrovica, then part of Kosovo Metohija and Southern Serbia.

In November, 1944, when the German armies in the Balkan were retreating from Yugoslavia and the Balkans, the Skanderbeg division remnants were reorganized into Regimentegruppe 21 SS Gebirgs “Skanderbeg” and was transferred to Skoplje, according to one account of the movements of the Battle group. This SS Kampfgrupe “Skanderbeg”, along with the prinz Eugen Divisin, defended the Vardar valley. The battle group “Skanderbeg” and Prinz Eugen held the Vardar area because it was the sole corridor of escape for the retreating German armies in Alexander Loehr’s Army Group E, which was retreating from Greece and Aegean Islands.

The Skanderbeg Battle Group along with the Prinz Eugen Division retreated to the to the Brcko region of Bosnia-Herzegovina by mid-January 1945. At this time the remaining Skanderbeg personnel were incorporated into the 14th SS Volonteer Mountain Infantry Regiment of the 7th SS division Prinz Eugen. The remnants of the Skanderbeg Division fought in this formation until the end of the war, retreating to Austria in May, 1945.

The Skanderbeg division engaged in a policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Serbian Orthodox Christian populations of the regions under occupation by the division in Kosovo Metohija, Montenegro, and southern Serbia. Balkan Historian Robert Lee Wolff, in the “Balkans in Our time”, described the genocide committed against Kosovo Serbs by the Shqiptar 21st Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS Skenderbeg as follows:

In the regions annexed by the Albanians, their so-called Skanderbeg division, made up of members of the Albanian minority in Yugoslavia, massacred Serbs with impunity.

Historian L.H. Stavrianos, in “The Balkan Since 1453”, described the genocide committed against Orthodox Serbs by the Shqiptar Skanderbeg Division in these terms: Yugoslav Albanians, organized in their fascist Skanderbeg Division, conducted an indiscriminate massacre of Serbians.

The Skanderbeg Division played a role in the Holocaust, the genocide if European Jewry, by rounding up scores of Kosovo Jews in a group roughly 500 persons deemed enemies of the Third Reich when the division occupied Prizren in Kosovo Metohija. The division sought to create ethnically pure Kosovo, ethnically cleansed of Orthodox Serbs, Jews and Gypsies the untermenschen (subhuman), who were targeted for extermination.

The Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal declared the Shutzstaffel or SS criminal organization and every individual member of SS was found to be a war criminal guilty of “planning and carrying out crimes against humanity”. The Shqiptar Kosovars in the 21st Waffen Gebirgs Division “Skanderbeg” committed war crimes and genocide against the Orthodox Serbian population of Kosovo. The Shqiptar planned and carried out crimes against humanity in Kosovo. Orthodox Serbians of Kosovo were the victims of ethnic cleansing and genocide. This genocide would contribute in the Shqiptar goal and policy to create an ethnically pure, Shqiptar Kosovo, in an attempt to create a greater Shqiperia or greater Albania. Following World war II, the Yugoslav Communist dictatorship allowed the policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Orthodox Serbs to continue, and indeed, gave greater impetus and legitimacy to the policy.

Battle of Gergovia




Between 58 and 53 B. C. Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul had dealt successively with the east, north, and west of Gaul, but the center had remained virtually unscathed, especially the Massif Central, the homeland of the Arverni, the most powerful tribe in Gaul in the second century B. C. and still a major force in the first century. Among the Arverni, the leader of the anti-Roman group was a young noble, Vercingetorix, who attempted a coup d’état during the winter of 53-52 B. C. but was expelled from the main town, Gergovia. The setback was short-lived; Gergovia was quickly back in Vercingetorix’s hands, and he started building a coalition with the neighboring tribal states to oppose Rome.

Caesar was in northern Italy, but he moved swiftly to combat any attack on the Roman province of Transalpine Gaul. He raised an army and, despite the fact that it was winter, crossed the Cevennes into the Auvergne. He moved on to gather his legions, which were in winter quarters around Agedincum (Sens). With these forces he was able to take the offensive, capturing the oppida (defended towns) of Vellaunodunum (Chateau-Landon), Cenabum (Orléans), and Avaricum (Bourges). Sending four legions north under Labienus against the Parisii, Caesar returned with the remaining six to attack Gergovia. Vercingetorix had arrived before him and had installed his troops in and around the oppidum.

Caesar describes the town as lying on a high, steep-sided hill, easily accessible only by a col (narrow neck of land joining two pieces of high ground) on the western side. The town was surrounded by a wall, with a second stone wall 2 meters high halfway up the slope; the Gallic forces were camped on the slopes, with garrisons on the neighboring hills. Caesar captured a poorly defended hill at the foot of the town and constructed his “large camp”; he subsequently captured a second hill “facing” the town, on which he built the “small camp,” linked with the large one by a double ditch, or “duplex” (Caesar’s use of the word “duplex” has been interpreted by some scholars to mean two parallel ditches separated by a pathway, and by other scholars as two ditches on the side facing the enemy protecting the route). Rather than attempt a siege, Caesar launched an attack; though his troops overran the outer wall, attacked the gates, and even mounted the town wall, they were forced to retreat, the only defeat Caesar suffered in the field. It led to a general revolt among the Gauls, and but for a tactical mistake by Vercingetorix, leading to the siege at Alesia, the Romans might well have been forced to retreat from Gaul. The battle of Gergovia had almost changed the course of the history of the Western world.


Later La Tene Celts developed a number of specialized modes of combat. They continued the development of chariot and mounted warfare, becoming the most formidable cavalry Europe had yet seen. Their armies were highly mobile, and their two and four wheeled chariots (essenda) gave them the advantage over all but the most disciplined and well-armed infantry. Elite chariot burials have been found across Europe. By the time of Caesar’s conquest, chariots had gone out of fashion in combat on the Continent, but they were still so used in Britain.

Celtic warriors employed a wide array of weapons: arrows, javelins, short- and long-bladed swords, and-in Iberia-the falcata, a heavy cleaver- like weapon that the Roman historian Livy claimed could sever a head or a limb in a single stroke. Slings were almost certainly used much earlier but the “ammo dumps” of sling stones found beside Late Bronze and Iron Age fortifications, such as Maiden Castle, are the first clear evidence of their use in Europe. Both mounted and chariot-borne troops utilized javelins. They would rapidly advance, release their missiles, then retire to safety. The Celtiberians of Spain used a short stabbing sword, the gladius, so effectively against the Romans that the latter adopted it as their legions’ principal weapon. Celtic warriors used long shields of an oblong or rectangular shape and wore horned or plumed metal helmets. A few of these have survived, although some were so fragile they were more theatrical than protective. Ornate “jockey cap” helmets with gold plating and coral inlays, such as the splendid fourth century B. C. examples from Amfreville and Agris, France, are known from the La Tene period.

The Celts’ best warriors, called gaesatae, wore torcs, thick-braided circlets of metal, around their necks. Gaesatae usually fought naked, sometimes with their bodies painted blue with dye made from woad (a type of herb), in the front ranks of Celtic armies. Because of their reputation for ferocity, they were hired as mercenaries into many Mediterranean armies. According to classical authors, the Celts preferred to settle conflicts in single combat between opposing leaders or champions. The long blunt-ended swords, useful only for slashing, that equipped most Celtic warriors reflected this predilection for single combat. Because of their longer reach, these were best in open, uncrowded combat, but unwieldy in crowded close quarters, as the closed ranks of Roman Legions with their stabbing swords would demonstrate in many battles.


Very Early Warships

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Piracy was an ancient custom in the eastern Mediterranean. But none of this normally involved fighting at sea. Pirates rarely pursued merchants on the open sea because all ships carried both sails and oars and were therefore difficult to catch. (Pure sailing ships did not appear until the late sixth century BC.) The standard piratical procedure was doubtless that described in the Odyssey: the raiders beached their boats in the vicinity of a coastal town and then captured the place by land. Raiders could also blockade harbours by intercepting ships at the harbour mouth, and we hear of Levantine ports in the Bronze Age being blockaded in wartime, but as no ship could stay out to sea for very long this strategy required prior control of the coast so that the port could be besieged by land and sea simultaneously. In all these cases it would obviously have been desirable to cut off and board enemy ships at sea, but for the reason already mentioned this was difficult to do. The relief at Medinet Habu shows Egyptian ships intercepting the invading Philistines; but that was in the mouth of the Nile, and even there the feat must have required good timing.

None of the ships in the Medinet Habu relief have rams, so this device did not exist around 1200 BC. But the evidence of Greek vase paintings shows that by around 800 BC the practice of fixing bronze rams to the prows of ships so that they could be used as weapons against other ships had become standard in the Mediterranean. Owing to the lack of pictorial records from the intervening centuries we cannot say with certainty when or where this device was invented, but it seems likely that it appeared within a century or so after 1200 BC, for much of the sacking of cities at that time was the work of coastal raiders, and there was urgent need for some method of coastal defence. It is unlikely to have been invented by the raiders, as it is not in the interest of pirates to sink their prey; but after coastguards had rams, pirates of course acquired them too. The likeliest inventors of ramming were the Phoenicians, the leading seafarers of the time.

The standard warship of the early Iron Age was the penteconter, a 100-foot galley propelled by fifty oarsmen, twenty-five on each side; the word ‘warship’ is somewhat misleading, as there was no distinction between ships of war and merchant vessels, and the penteconters were equally useful for transporting trade goods (which were of small bulk at this time) and protecting them. In such ships the Phoenicians, followed by the Greeks, opened up the whole of the western Mediterranean to trade and colonization. Originally penteconters were built with only one bank of oars. The next step was the bireme, a shorter and more seaworthy vessel with its fifty oars arranged in two superimposed banks. This was in use by 700 Be; an Assyrian relief of that date shows the king of Tyre embarking in a bireme.

None of this amounted to much ‘sea power’ in the modern sense of that term; it was more like coastal power. We do not hear of sea battles before the seventh century, not even between Phoenician cities, and no big battles until the sixth, which suggests the fifty-oared galleys were for defensive purposes, to guard harbours and repel pirates. It is doubtful there were any naval tactics, which would require concerted action by a number of galleys. Real sea power had to await the invention of the trireme, a highly specialized ship with 170 oars in three banks, with more than three times the propulsive power of a penteconter, and useful for nothing but warfare. These expensive technological marvels were probably beyond the reach of a city state. They did not become common until the late sixth century, when the Persian Empire became a Mediterranean power, and the Persian king Cambyses, according to Herodotus, became the first man to aspire to command of the sea.

Blockade (Strategy), 1500 to the Present


The Blockade of Toulon, 1810-14: Pellew’s Action, 5 November 1813, Thomas Luny, 1830, National Maritime Museum.


Battle of Port Royal: Harper’s Weekly, November 30, 1861 »


Isolation by a warring nation of a particular enemy area. The employment of naval blockades in war has been practiced since the beginning of recorded maritime history. The first known instances of a blockade took place during the Greek Peloponnesian War in the fifth century b.c. Warships patrolled the coastline of an enemy in order to trap an opposing fleet within its harbors and disrupt maritime commerce. Blockaders might hope that this would force the enemy fleet out to fight.

The maritime nations of Europe were aware of this ancient strategy, but it did not assume critical importance until the eighteenth century. Great Britain was the first naval power to implement a systematic blockade where squadrons of ships were devoted to a permanent blockade of an enemy’s coasts. In the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763), the Royal Navy sealed major French ports by sailing within visual range of French territory. This strategy became known as a close blockade and had the same objectives as that employed by the ancient Greeks. It bottled up the French fleet in its ports, with the chance that it might come out to fight, and it caused economic dislocation through the seizure of ships trying to sail through the blockade to trade with France. Captains who captured these vessels were usually entitled to keep them and their cargoes for prize money. The effects of the first systematic blockade in history were a clear indication of the operation’s worth. By bottling up the French fleet, the blockade cut off needed reinforcements and supplies for the French forces fighting in Canada. The blockade also damaged France’s economy through the loss of maritime trade.

The British employed the blockade a second time in the American Revolution (1775–1783). This operation was also a close blockade, where British forces sealed off the entrances to the major colonial ports. Unlike the blockade during the Seven Years’ War, its goal was not bottling up a battle fleet, as that of the colonies was nonexistent. The purpose was to cut off colonial maritime commerce and prevent the coastal transport of supplies in order to cripple American armed forces. This blockade forced the Americans to rely only on overland transport for supply, disrupted colonial trade, and caused some measure of hardship to the civilian population, which in turn hurt morale.

As the empires and trade of the western European powers expanded, so did their dependence on goods from overseas. This growing need made the military and economic goals of blockade equally important. The critical nature of both of these aspects of blockade was made evident in the French Revolutionary and Napoléonic Wars (1792–1815). When the British entered the war, the Royal Navy employed a close blockade of the important French ports to bottle up the French fleet. Many of the war’s major naval engagements resulted from French fleets trying to break through the blockade. British victories in these and other battles gave the British supremacy of the sea and consequently removed any threat of invasion against Britain.

The economic dislocation caused by the blockade also contributed to the defeat of France. Napoléon spread the effects of the blockade from France to other European states when he forced them to adhere to his Continental System, which was a trade embargo against Britain that began in 1806. The economic hardship caused by this system led to Russia’s withdrawal from the system in December 1810 and a vow from Napoléon to punish Tsar Alexander I. This culminated in Napoléon’s disastrous 1812 campaign into Russia.

The growing economic importance of blockades was also evident in the War of 1812. Here the British mounted another close blockade, with the same strategic goals as in Europe. It bottled up the U.S. Navy’s ships and caused great economic distress. By 1814 U.S. merchant trade was but 17 percent of its prewar 1811 level.

The economic strategic effects of blockades in this age were particularly devastating because there were no internationally accepted rules that governed the scope of operations. Maritime laws in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were the product of commerce agreements between individual nations and did not represent a unified body of opinion. Attempts to create a more uniform code for laws that governed the use of blockades failed. An example is the 1780 League of Armed Neutrality comprising Russia, Denmark, and Sweden. Maritime powers such as Britain and France opposed this course, which led Catherine the Great of Russia to call the attempt the “Armed Nullity.”

Action taken during the 1854–1856 Crimean War resulted in the beginning of changes in this state of affairs. The British and French naval blockade of Russia damaged the maritime trade of the United States, which by this time was a force in world power politics. The Americans championed the principle of freedom of the seas, meaning the ability to conduct trade with any country in peace or war without interference. In 1854 the British tried to placate the United States by surrendering some rights in wartime, particularly the right to capture enemy property in neutral ships. This action led to the 1856 Declaration of Paris, the first attempt to place limits on blockades through the use of international law.

This legislation did little to alter any aspect of blockades in the years immediately following its adoption. The U.S. Civil War (1861–1865) was the first test of the new maritime laws. On 19 April 1861, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a naval blockade of the entire Confederate coast. It was a close blockade and its methods violated all the stipulations of the Declaration of Paris. The United States, however, had not signed the Declaration of Paris, as it prohibited the use of privateers. The Americans had relied on privateers in time of war because of their small number of purpose-built warships. As in past blockades, this Civil War operation proved crushing to the enemy and was one of the most effective weapons in the Union arsenal.

The Union violation of the Declaration of Paris did not result in a new conference to discuss further laws to restrict the strategic goals of blockades. The importance of the Civil War blockade lay in technological innovation that foreshadowed future changes. In the Civil War the first successful submarine, the CSS H. L. Hunley, which sank a Union blockader in February 1864, was deployed. In the future, technological advances would challenge the use of close blockades in wartime.

In the meantime, blockade strategy remained largely the same as it had been in the eighteenth century, ignoring to varying degrees the Declaration of Paris. The Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), however, was the catalyst for additions to international law. Both belligerents engaged in war on the other’s trade, which included the Japanese blockade of Port Arthur and Russian blockades of Chinese ports supplying the Japanese. But the Russian operation proved the more onerous to neutral commerce. Great Britain, whose trade had been most affected, became a champion for the protection of neutral rights in wartime and called for new conferences on the subject. The 1907 Second Hague Peace Conference did little to change existing legislation, but the 1909 Declaration of London altered completely the employment of blockades and undermined the strategic goals of blockades. Future belligerents could only capture enemy merchant ships, an aim inadequate to justify the operation. If a state’s merchant fleet was seized, it could simply redirect its trade through neutral nations.

The British, despite being the principal advocate of the declaration, increasingly doubted the use of blockades in the years that followed. Not only did the new legislation render an effective blockade impossible, but the traditional strategy of its deployment was no longer viable because of technological advances. By the twentieth century, the modern submarine had appeared, armed with the torpedo. In addition, other technological advances, such as improved coastal artillery and mines, diminished the possibility of a successful close blockade. A blockaded power that possessed these weapons could easily inflict great damage on a battle fleet lying just off its shores.

The growth of international law and technological change produced new blockade strategies in World War I (1914–1918). The British blockade of Germany took both of these factors into account, although the British increasingly ignored international law because of the need for greater effectiveness. They initially set up a system whereby ships would be stopped, searched, and, if necessary, sent into one of many ports for examination of their cargoes. The force that performed this task was no longer a close blockade, but a distant one deployed at the passages through which neutral commerce had to pass to reach its destination.

Lacking superiority at sea, the Germans used the new technology of the submarine and torpedo to introduce yet another blockade strategy. On 1 February 1915, the Germans declared a war zone around the British Isles; any ship that entered it would be subject to attack without warning. This strategy did produce significant results for the Germans, but in the end it proved disastrous to their war effort. Both blockades contravened international law, but the German blockade led to the loss of neutral lives. When Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare, the United States responded by declaring war in April 1917.

Very little changed in the employment of blockades during World War II. In fact, the blockade strategies largely mirrored those of World War I. The British employed a distant blockade of Germany that observed to some degree the authority of international law. The Germans again employed a submarine blockade of Britain and developed it further. Technological improvements in submarine designs between the wars allowed a widening of the war zone to include the entire Atlantic Ocean.

The Germans may have been the creators of the submarine blockade strategy, but the most successful use of it came in the Pacific theater with the U.S. submarine campaign against Japan. At the beginning of the war, the Japanese possessed six million tons of merchant shipping. They built an additional two million during the war. The American submarine blockade accounted for five million tons of the eight million tons sunk during the war, thus economically starving Japan.

The use of blockades has continued in the postwar years and has changed substantially from past uses. In terms of deployment, blockades now vary between close and distant ones based on the situation. The U.S. naval blockade of Cuba during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis employed a combination of both strategies. The same situation held true for the U.S. blockade of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) during the Vietnam War (1964–1975). These endeavors also used a combination of submarines and surface vessels instead of only one or the other.

International law and neutral rights also altered blockades with the creation of the United Nations in 1946. Postwar blockades have seen many more restrictions on their use, and in the recent past they have had more of a diplomatic than a military function.

The most recent naval blockade reveals how far the operation has evolved and once again brings into question its future use. In the Gulf War (1990–1991), the navies of the coalition against Iraq deployed a blockade of the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. It had little effect on Iraqi wartime operations. International law made the blockade more humane because it allowed goods with a civilian use to pass into Iraq, and any violation risked condemnation by the United Nations. But this produced the same problem that forced the British to remove these restrictions during World War I in order to make their blockade effective. Blockades, in the age of total war, are directed at civilian and soldier alike to cripple a country’s war effort. Limited blockades cannot accomplish the strategic goals of the endeavor: the total destruction of the civilian and government sectors of a country’s economy in order to cripple its capacity to wage war.


Cable, James. The Political Influence of Naval Force in History. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.

Hampshire, Cecil A. The Blockaders. London: William Kimber, 1980.

Harding, Richard. Sea Power and Naval Warfare, 1650-1830. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1999.

Jane, Fred T. The British Battle-Fleet: Its Inception and Growth throughout the Centuries. London: S. W. Partridge and Co., 1912.


How Britain Won the War of 1812: The Royal Navy’s Blockades of the United States, 1812-1815 by Brian Arthur